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Community Choir Liability Insurance

Good afternoon all!
I got a notice this week from one of the staff at the church that hosts my community choir.  They are mulling the possibility of requiring that groups like us that they host begin to carry liability insurance.  I suspect that this may be a reaction to new laws being enacted in the state of Colorado (which the church that I work in is currently dealing with), but I can't be sure until I actually get to sit down and talk to their pastor.  In the meantime, I thought it would be prudent to get some information.
I'd like to hear experiences from choir administrators that either do this already or are working towards purchasing a policy.  I know next to nothing about this, and I'm curious to discover how it's accomplished.  Thanks for your time.
Daniel McGarvey
Replies (19): Threaded | Chronological
on November 21, 2009 3:25pm
Hi, Daniel.
In addition to my life in choral music, I also spent several years as a liability insurance underwriter.
If your community choir is an independent organization (ie. its own 501(c)(3) or other entity, rather than a part of a church, school, etc.), then I highly recommend a general liability policy for the organization, whether or not the church hosting your rehearsals is going to require it.  Any local independent insurance agent should be able to help you out with this, so I'd start by calling the one who handles your personal insurance (unless you're in the unfortunate situation of being with a non-agent company).
A general liability policy will cover the organization from liability arising out of bodily injury sustained by one of its singers, audience members, guests, etc - basically anyone EXCEPT an employee - in the course and scope of its operations.  A couple of examples: one of your singers falls off the risers; an audience member trips over a microphone cable; one volunteer closes the piano lid on another's fingers.... 
My guess is that the church has a hold harmless agreement in its lease with the organization, protecting istelf from liability in these types of situations, but wants to verify that the organization has the means by which to assume the financial requirements of such an incident. This is a VERY standard provision in leases, and I'm surprised you've not been required to present a certificate of insurance before.  I don't think it is necessarily in response to any new laws.  Organizations simply need insurance.
Most liability policies for nonprofits are based upon gross annual receipts, and so a basic policy will not cost more than a couple hundred dollars per year.  Since I'm long since out of the business, I'm more than happy to take a critical look at anything your agent proposes, as a disinterested third party.  Drop me an email at ttropp(a) if you have any other questions.
on November 21, 2009 4:10pm
We carry liability insurance for all of our venues.
on November 22, 2009 6:12am
Hi Daniel,
Tom gave you the best information!  I founded and conduct a large, non profit 501 (c) (3), all treble boys choir conisiting of over 200 choristers in Texas and we have always had liability insurance.  It costs us about $650.00 per year currently for a million coverage.  I believe your organization can not afford NOT to carry this.  We use it for our camps, concerts and everything that our boys are involved in through the choir organization.  Many of the concert venues we perform for actually ask and require us to have this and it is easy to simply give them a copy of our policy declaration page. 
Please contact me directly if you would like to talk about this more wra(a)  The Fort Bend Boys Choir of Texas
Bill Adams
on November 22, 2009 8:11am
Here in ole Haliburton, Ontario we are always required to have liability insurance for our rehearsal space. As well we are required to supply it for all of our performance venues.
Melissa Stephens
on November 22, 2009 10:00am
Tom, perhaps you could clarify something for us.  (And thanks for bringing this up, Daniel; it's been an illuminating discussion.)
There seems to be a disconnect between insuring a LOCATION (rehearsal space, performance venue, etc.) and insuring an ORGANIZATION.  What is the correct way to look at this, from the insurance industry's point of view?
I suppose the same could be said of homeowner's insurance:  does it insure the location or the homeowner?  But in that case it's moot because they're usually identical.  In the case of a musical organization, they probably are not.
on November 22, 2009 6:24pm
Of course, John.  Using your homeowner's insurance is a great example.  The homeowners policy that you buy is actually a little package policy, offering several different lines of coverage.  The Property portion of the policy covers physical damage to the structures and personal property (anything not screwed to the wall) at your specific residence premises.
Then there's a separate section of your homeowners policy that provides liability coverage.  This coverage is intended to cover you for things that happen at your house (a guest falls down the stairs, etc.), but is generally written on a comprehensive personal liability form, which will follow you around wherever you go, and cover any damage that your cause to anyone (subject to some exceptions, naturally).  Therefore, if your golf ball hits somebody on the fairway, if you inadvertently bump somebody on the sidewalk and knock them down, etc., the liability coverage on your homeowners policy can kick in to defend you in court and pay any damages for which you are responsible. (Traditionally, the coverage hasn't followed you EVERYWHERE, but has been limited to the U.S., its terretories and possessions, Puerto Rico, and Canada; however many companies have now begun to provide coverage worldwide.)
Likewise, a corporation or organization that purchases a general liability policy has the protection of this policy everywhere it operates.  Now the church in question is probably being asked to be added as an "Additional Insured" on the policy, and this is likely what we're interpreting as purchasing liability coverage for a specific location.  However, what that really means is that the company is being informed that it's providing contractual liability coverage for the landlord; no additional coverage is really being purchased, and this SHOULD not result in an additional premium.
on November 22, 2009 12:31pm
 When the Renaissance Chorus Assn. presented the 3-day HB Centennial in 2 venues, we hadn't  performed in many years, most brokers required very high premiums, but dealing with various brokers, found one, herself a singer, who understood our  needs. which covered the Association,audience, and the 4 other singing / performing groups, and the other instrumental groups and , and arranged a reasonable event policy.[ It didnt hurt that she was interested in other business that we could tell her about]  Make inquiries within your organization for such references- all policies are not equal.  They will ask for things like whether alcoholic beverages will be available, etc.
references will be shared if desired.
Sig Rosen<sigrosen(at)>
on November 22, 2009 6:12pm
It's great that you've found a good broker; everybody should.  Bear in mind that what you purchased was special event coverage, which is only good for the duration of your event (and limited to occurrences arising out of that event). Sounds like this was a one-time event, so that's exactly what you should have purchased.  However, this won't work for any sort of ongoing entity (particularly in this case, where the church is looking for some protection from the organizations activities.
on November 23, 2009 2:32am
In Australia, the Australian National Choral Association has negotiated blanket Public Liability and Volunteer Accident Insurance cover for their member choirs. The choirs contribute to the cost, at a fraction of the price they would pay to obtain their own cover.
Does Chorus America provide a similar service?
on November 23, 2009 8:54am
That's interesting, Simon.  Not being aware of such a program, I've just visited the member benefits page for C.A.  While they don't have a blanket policy for their member choruses (which might not be a great idea in the U.S. anyway, for a number of reasons), they do have affiliations with several non-profit specialty brokers, who probably have some pre-designed packages for choirs.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I've never heard of any of these brokers; however, their web sites indicate that they are using some good quality carriers (insurance companies).
on November 23, 2009 10:11am
The BC Choral Federation does a similar thing; member choirs can piggyback onto our insurance policy at a much lower price than they would pay independently.
on July 8, 2012 4:43pm
We have virtually no assets that anyone could sue us for. Is there a reason I'm not seeing that we should spend money on liability insurance?
on July 16, 2012 2:37pm
Members of the board and/or officers of your nonprofit could be sued individually or as a group. Clients can even sue your organization in regard to issues such as discrimination (racial, sexual, religious, age, and sexual-orientation). Board members and officers can be included in these suits. The federal regulations on environmental, financial, and other issues can also lead to litigation.

Some nonprofits cannot secure certain grants without proper insurance in place since the start of the nonprofit.
Some professionals can't join a board unless coverage is provided.

Your board members are volunteers who often make difficult decisions. They should have D & O insurance to protect them. Not having such insurance can make it difficult to attract and retain good board members, who simply cannot afford to serve if they run such risk to their personal assets.
My organization's budget last year was a very meager $17,449 for a chorus of 14 singers. Liability insurance was $312 per year. D & O coverage was $750. For the peace of mind this brings, we consider it money well-spent.
Todd Wilson
Executive Director
Nashville Singers
on July 17, 2012 4:44am
This spring I spent many hours investigating this question for Joyful Noise chorus of adults with physical & intellectual disabilities.
We were required by one of our venues to purchase a $250 special event coverage policy, which protected the church where we were performing in the event that one of our singers inadvertently harmed a member of our audience. (One example provided of such an occurrence was that if a singer placed her purse in an aisle and an audience member tripped, the audience member would be covered.)
Our agent researched for days and was unable to identify a company that could provide general liability coverage that would compensate for an injury to one of our singers or volunteers. The various agents we consulted asserted that: (1) Singers choose this recreational activity voluntarily and for their own pleasure -- just as they would if they took up a sport. They are not earning income from singing, and are thus ineligible for benefits. (2) Singers' medical insurance should cover them if anything unfortunate were to happen at a concert or rehearsal. The one exception offered was that some underwriters offer policies which do cover sexual assault. 
Thus Tom's response from 2009 is a bit puzzling to me, since I did specifically ask each agent whether we could find a policy that would cover us in the event that a singer with a disability tripped over a microphone cord or fell off the stage. Tom, if you're still reading, can you clarify?
Has anyone found a policy that covers a choir's singers?
Allison Fromm
on July 17, 2012 6:51am
Your queston is timely for me- I conduct a small community chorus, and I had not thought about carrying liability insurance.   We do have one alto who is sight-impaired, and the thought her slipping off the stage in the church parish hall, where we rehearse and perform, is frightening.
To Todd Wilson:  what is  D & O insurance?"
Carl Smith
on July 18, 2012 10:54am
D & O stands for Directors and Officer insurance protects your board and officers (leaders) from personal liability should someone sue your organization. If your organization doesn't have deep pockets, an opportunistic litigant will typically find someone within the organization that does.
on July 17, 2012 7:00am
Allison, I think I know where the confusion is coming in.  I'll again return to personal insurance to illustrate the point, since most people are marginally more familiar with those policies than commercial ones.
Your homeowners policy (and your auto policy as well) has a provision within the liability section called "Medical Payments to others," or sometimes "Medical Expenses." Honestly, this coverage is designed to keep injuries separate from the tort system and out of the courts. If somebody is injured on your property, regardless of fault or circumstances, this coverage will kick in to cover their medical expenses. The idea is to give you a chance to say, "Oh no! I'm so sorry you fell down my stairs. I'll feel much better if we go have that arm checked out." You're proactively taking care of the injury and therefore far less likely to be sued.
Just like your homeowners policy, the Commercial General Liability form includes a medical expenses provision. When I was working in the business I frequently saw THIS provision being removed from performing arts groups, for the reasons your agent listed, plus the fact that being on a stage is simply inherently dangerous. However, I have never seen a situation where the company has completely excluded liability for participants - only the medical payments provision. In other words, coverage under the policy would only kick in if the organization was shown to be negligent (which means that your injured volunteer would have to get a lawyer and seek legal action against the organization before any of his/her injuuries were taken care of.
Keep in mind that when an insurance form excludes coverage it does so for one (or more) of three reasons: First, if a risk is deemed uninsurable and any attempt to cover losses would bankrupt the insurance industry: Flood, war, etc. Second, when insurance is provided better elsewhere: my company's CGL policy doesn't cover injury to my employees because that coverage is better provided by a work comp policy. Finally, they exclude causes of loss that should simply not be covered: intentional acts mostly.  In this case, I think they're looking at performing organizations and figuring the likelihood of a participant being injured once or twice a year is high enough that the policy simply can't generate enough premium to adequately underwrite the risk.  So we'll only let the coverage kick in when the organization was negligent. Remove yourself from the community choir for a moment and think of a community theater. Every summer, somebody gets hurt; every couple years those injuries involve an X-ray.  Unfortunately, most insurance underwriters don't know the difference between the two organizations; they can only look at broad statistics.
SO... Make sure you're working with a carrier that specializes in this.  Definitely check out the insurance offerings through Fractured Atlas and other NPO service providers; Fractured Atlas doesn't work with brokers, so it's very likely your agent overlooked them. (As memory serves, they used to have a very resonably priced "Volunteer Liability" policy - under $200 per year.) Also make sure that one of the carriers to which your agent has gone is First Nonprofit Mutual Insurance Company.  Those folks really know what they're doing.
Again, I'm VERY aware that we're watching every penny in our organizations right now, but we can't afford to go wtihout coverage.  Even forget about legal action for a minute. Do you really want to tell one of your long-term choir member/donors that you can't cover his medical expenses after he falls off the risers? It's the right thing to do.
on July 18, 2012 7:16pm
I was under the impression - perhaps mistakenly - that an incorporated nonprofit's board members were protected from litigation by virtue of being properly incorporated. We are in the State of Michigan. Anyone know the real answer to that? Or a state agency that could clarify?
on July 19, 2012 5:12am
Nonprofit directors and officers receive much broader protection from personal liability than those of for profit companies, but that shield is nowhere near impenetrable. Most of the instances that can pierce the nonprofit deal with employment and personal issues - hiring and termination practices, harassment, etc. And bear in mind that the D's and O's are not being sued for their own actions necessarily, but for things that happened under their watch. Penn State is a nonprofit, but you'd better believe the administrators and board members are being held personally liable for what went on in that locker room.
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